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Family Thoughts

I enjoy writing. Sometimes I have to write, just to sort some things out in my mind. I get lazy, though, or distracted, and simply donít seem to have anything to write about. My Friday Group of Writers is a good stimulant for those times when ideas seem scarce. Itís a good blend of "you are expected to have something to read" from my high school days and "weíd like to hear what youíve been thinking about" from my (uhónon-existent) fans. The club and the carrot. So I begin thinking about my assignment early in the week, and plan to sit down at the computer all day Thursday.

And now itís Thursday, and I donít have anything rattling around in my head waiting to be turned into ones and zeros in my computer. Nothing has happened in the past week.

Oh, well, there was the big family gathering over the weekend to celebrate the wedding of Judithís daughter, who eloped in May to Las Vegas. We had out-of-town guests for a week, relatives from all over the country. I like most of them, so it wasnít all that difficult, but the space and quiet now feel good. At the lawn party Saturday, for which the weather was on its best behavior, I had some pleasant but brief conversations with people like Judithís ex-husband (father of the bride). Mostly I hid behind the video camera, recording the whole thing for the bride and groom to look at later, since they were so busy being hosts that they couldnít know how nice a party it really was. Using the camera to keep my hands busy is better than having a drink in my hand all day and being embarrassed later.

It had rained the day before (and the day after), but the lawn seemed dry under the white tent in the back yard. By evening, however, all the footsteps had coaxed the water from the ground, and people squished as they walked, and the folding chairs sank unevenly into the ground, leaving people sitting awkwardly at the long tables, trying to maintain their balance. All in all, people had a good time. Debra, the bride, said "it was perfect," so I guess it was.

I had to laugh at myself at one point, however. The brideís grandmother and I were looking through one of the photo albums they had distributed around the living room for people to look at themselves as they were twenty years ago, and came across pictures of Judith at nineteen with her first husband (the same one I had the pleasant conversation with earlier, only while he still had hair). I got this twinge of jealousy, seeing how she leaned into him for the photograph. She was gorgeous, in the way that young women looked in those days, with high heels and big hair.

Youth is what the human race is all about, I suppose. Thatís the crucial time, the time of reproduction, when the genes (I canít really say "our" genes) try to make sure their own kind surviveóthe outer form, the part we think is important, is just a means to their own end. They donít care what we look like, as long as we do the procreation thing for them. We like to pretend that we make choices, that we control our own lives. Itís humbling to discover just how little choice we really have.

Judith had a birthday this past Monday, her sixty-fourth. I canít imagine loving anyone more than I do her, right now. We were a perfect fit, fifteen years ago when we first met. It was like we had each gone through a whole lifetime of adventure, pain and dreaming, just to get to that point, when the other just happened to be there, just as prepared, for our time together. Weíve both agreed, laughing, that forty years ago neither of us would have given the other a second glance. We were nothing alike then. I canít imagine being a part of her life, the life she has described to me, without hating it. And I would not have been ready to have her in my life, either. Something happened in the time since then, to both of us.

Our genes couldnít care less. Neither of us is capable of reproduction any more. Our combination of genetic material will never create a new human being. Thatís not a tragedy. There are countless other combinations out there that will be just as good for the human race. Our existing six children, three from each of us, have little in common, and seldom see each other. The two families that came together last weekend could possibly end up being connected by more than a marriage certificate, although children donít seem to be an objective to the newlyweds.

We humans have, apparently, wrested control of our destiny from our own genes. The time following the reproductive years is beginning to be more important to our society and culture than (if youíll pardon my bluntness) the "rutting season." Not that Iím against sex, even though itís less relevant to me these days. I can enjoy watching the dance even though my feet donít move like they used to. Thatís why it seemed strangely incongruent to me that I felt jealousy looking at a very-young Judith being so attracted to another very-young Barry. It wasnít the Judith I know and love. I didnít feel jealous that same day watching Judith conversing at length with the balding, probably wiser, Barry on the lawn of their daughterís home.

Maybe it was just a reminder from my own genes that I shouldnít get too sure of myself and pompous about whatís important to life.

Donald Skiff, September 26, 2002

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